The goal of a brochure or tourism advertisement, obviously, is to make enticing promises that fuel the hopes of travellers about having the most idyllic holiday possible.
Tourists planning a vacation, however, need to look deeper than these glossy presentations to distinguish fact from fiction, and governments need to provide accurate risk assessments to help their citizens choose safe destinations.
The growing importance of places like Dubai, however, has made it considerably more difficult for tourists to make informed decisions about travel specifically to the Gulf. Both because nations like the UAE and Qatar strictly control news and information about conditions in their countries, effectively turning most media coverage into positive marketing; and because they enjoy significant economic and political influence in the West; potential travellers are inevitably misinformed about the real dangers hidden beneath the glitz and glamour of the region’s luxurious packaging.
Travelling to the Arab Gulf States, particularly the UAE and Qatar, can be highly risky for tourists. Western governments need to issue greater travel warnings to highlight the dangers associated with visiting these countries. The primary concern for travellers is the strict laws and regulations governing drug and alcohol consumption, and the severe penalties for those who break them – not to mention the ease with which false allegations of law-breaking can lead to convictions.
The UAE, in particular, has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. It prohibits a range of different substances, from CBD oil to pharmaceuticals, and even over-the-counter medications, such as cold and flu remedies, are subject to strict scrutiny. While many countries have strict drug laws, the primary difference with the UAE is the corruption of police, law enforcement procedures, and the judicial system.
A mere allegation is sufficient evidence to arrest and prosecute individuals, and even if someone is innocent, it can take more than a year of detention and hefty legal bills to be exonerated. Visitors have been arrested for possession of drugs “in their bloodstream” even where the drug has been legally consumed abroad. Visitors have also been arrested in the UAE for cannabis residue that can remain in the blood for up to two months.
Dubai's police procedures leave foreigners open to legal abuse. Dozens of other British nationals have been caught out by reckless police procedures that cast such a wide net that people can be arrested because an acquaintance was arrested, or because they attended a party where someone allegedly had drugs. Andy Neal, a British national, was arrested because he simply had someone's number in his phone. He spent a year in prison before being exonerated. Simply abstaining from drugs does not protect visitors from wrongful arrest and prosecution.
Local authorities are rewarded for drug-related arrests and convictions, and are thus incentivised to exaggerate or even fabricate cases; and those who fall foul will end up in prisons notorious for human rights abuses and torture. This can be a terrifying prospect for tourists who are arrested for what are considered minor offences in their home countries, such as drug possession, or even for things as trivial as swearing or making rude gestures in public.
Radha Stirling interviews American detained in Dubai over legal marijuana. “He’s free”. “Nevada resident Peter Clark, from California, was finally freed from Dubai after his 2 month ordeal which cost him $50,000. Peter was deported late Tuesday night on a flight via Doha to New York.”. Detained in Dubai CEO, Radha Stirling, announced Peter Clark’s safe return to the United States. “Nevada resident Peter Clark, from California, was finally freed from Dubai after his 2 month ordeal which cost him $50,000.
Visitors have been arrested for tiny amounts of drug residue found in their possessions, bags, and even in their bodies. Some drugs remain detectable for months, and travellers need to be mindful of this when visiting or transiting through the Middle East. It is important to avoid engaging with anyone else who may be taking drugs in the UAE and avoid clubs and parties that may attract drug users.
Visitors should also be mindful of consuming alcohol, as a simple complaint that you are "drunk" can land you in jail, even if you've only had one drink. The UAE's legal system is not only strict when it comes to drugs and alcohol but also with other offences. Public displays of affection, wearing immodest clothing, and insulting Islam or its prophets are considered criminal offences.
Additionally, the judicial system is heavily biassed against foreigners, and it can be difficult for non-Arabic speakers to understand legal proceedings, making it challenging to defend oneself in court.
Tourists should also be aware that the UAE's laws on internet use and social media are equally strict. Posting or sharing anything that could be considered offensive, including criticism of the government or its policies, can result in arrest and imprisonment. In some cases, even liking or sharing a post deemed offensive can result in prosecution. Visitors can even be arrested over private WhatsApp chats, if officials find the content objectionable.
Foreign Office told “Dubai travel warnings insufficient” Coroner tells FCDO to increase Dubai travel warnings. The inquest into the death of Lee Bradley Brown heard that the number of new cases of Britons reporting torture or mistreatment in Dubai to the Foreign Office had surged from 3 per cent of the global total to 13 per cent in just four years, but “that is only the tip of the iceberg”, explained Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai who has advocated for victims since 2008. The Coroner produced a prevention of future deaths report.
In conclusion, tourists need to exercise caution when travelling to the Arab Gulf States, particularly the UAE and Qatar. The strict laws and regulations governing drug and alcohol consumption, as well as other offences, mean that visitors must be mindful of their behaviour at all times.
Western governments should issue greater travel warnings to highlight the risks associated with visiting these countries. Visitors should research local laws and customs before travelling, and if in doubt, they should be able to seek advice from their embassy or consulate – if only they can be reliably and accurately informed about the risks.
By being aware of the dangers, tourists can take steps to protect themselves and ensure safety – but unfortunately, even awareness is not always enough.
If a tourist encounters a problem with law enforcement, we strongly advise foreign nationals to contact Detained in Dubai immediately, before hiring a local attorney. Lawyers from the region very often have histories and even family connections with judges and prosecutors, and demand exorbitant fees only to expedite convictions for the sake of improving their own relationships with officials. We will assist clients in dealing with their embassies, diplomats, and government representatives back home, as well as with local authorities; and we can ensure that their cases receive the appropriate attention to resolve them successfully.
Detained in Dubai: http://www.detainedindubai.org
Detained in Doha: https://www.detainedindoha.org
Radha Stirling: http://www.radhastirling.com
CLAN - Crypto Legal Advocacy Network: https://www.bitclan.org/
Due Process International: http://www.dueprocess.international
IPEX - Interpol & Extradition Reform & Defence Experts: https://www.ipexreform.com/
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